On the up-and-up

It’s been a solid season thus far for the Bison men’s basketball team. With a record of 7-3 heading into a pivotal game against the Wesmen this week, the Bisons sit near the top of the standings in a very competitive Canada West prairie division.

Despite their success, head coach Kirby Schepp is not entirely satisfied with his team’s performance.

“I’m generally happy with [how the team is playing], but I don’t think we’re playing our best ball right now,” said Schepp, adding, “I think we need to refine things a bit, especially over this last stretch of the first half. It’s really important that we play our best basketball.”

Consistency is going to be the key for whichever teams make it out of the Canada West conference, especially when either team has a legitimate shot to win in nearly every game this year.

“You don’t look down the list and see one juggernaut that you think is impossible to beat, and at the same time you don’t look down the list and think ‘Yea, there’s one that we got,’” said Schepp.

“It’s great for basketball, and it’s great for the league in a lot of ways. It makes it a lot tougher on [the coaching staff], in the work we have to put in. The level of intensity cannot drop.”

This past weekend, the Bisons attempted to keep that intensity up, as they played host to two teams from the Pacific division in their last weekend of conference play for the fall portion of the season.

In the first game of the weekend, Manitoba cruised past the basement-dwelling UBC Okanagan Heat 79-68. Despite a disappointing shooting percentage of 35.4 per cent, Manitoba headed into the half with a double-digit lead. From there, they did enough to hold on for the victory. Xavier Smith was 6-for-10 on the night as he led the herd with 16 points.

The following day, Manitoba picked up their second win of the weekend against Thompson Rivers University Wolfpack, securing a hard-fought 91-80 victory.

The first quarter was not what the coach Schepp would have liked to see out of his team. Manitoba’s shooters continued to struggle, as TRU frustrated the home team, jumping out to a 23-16 lead.

Kevin Oliver opened the scoring for Manitoba in the second, jumpstarting the struggling Bisons with a pair of three-point shots that evaporated the Wolfpack lead to just three. Manitoba continued to pick up their hustle, playing smarter basketball and better defence as they surpassed the Wolfpack midway through the second quarter.

Both teams poured it on through the remainder of the quarter—including a crazy sequence that saw TRU match a Manitoba three pointer twice in the span of a minute—as they battled to a 46-46 tie heading into halftime.

Turnovers and poor shots plagued the Bisons early in the second half, as they missed seven straight shots before Oliver picked up the team’s first points of the half. A pair of three-pointers by Jonar Huertas provided a spark for the team, pushing them ahead 54-48. Defensively, the Bisons cleaned up their game, forcing turnovers and getting the ball into attacking territory.

Despite sloppy play dominating much of the third quarter, Manitoba built up an eight-point lead heading in to the final frame. TRU continued to push back, taking the lead midway through the frame. The crowd on hand—which included participants in the Junior Bisons boy’s basketball team—came to life as the Bisons pushed back in the final minutes. With the Bisons out to a sizable lead late, the Wolfpack were forced to make risky plays, which Manitoba mostly snuffed out until the final buzzer.

Xavier Smith emerged as the top scorer of the game, leading all players with 25 point. Jonar Huertas was named the Bison player of the game. Both Huertas and Oliver were solid shooting from the perimeter, providing points and momentum at key moments for Manitoba.

Both the men and women’s basketball teams wrap up the first half of the season on Dec. 5 at Winnipeg, as apart of the 2012 Duckworth Challenge.